A Brief Look At Nintendo's Obsession With Putting Handheld Gaming On Your TV

Illustration for article titled A Brief Look At Nintendos Obsession With Putting Handheld Gaming On Your TV
Total RecallTotal RecallTotal Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.

By all accounts, the Nintendo Switch looks like the sort of portable-console hybrid that many were speculating about ever since initial rumors about the new hardware first started to circulate. It’s weird to think of Nintendo moving forward without releasing a new, strictly stationary console. For many of us, the first time we ever played any video game was on the NES or SNES, so much so that it seemed perfectly normal to say “I’m playing Nintendo.”

But in a lot of ways, the Switch seems like the logical end-point to the way Nintendo has approached hardware development ever since it got into the business. Nintendo’s first ever video game console was the Color TV-Game, released in Japan in the late 70s. The device didn’t have it’s own screen but it did have controls mounted directly on the console. The extremely literal title of the machine also indicated a certain way of thinking about the dichotomy between screens and computers.

But if you could mount controls directly on the console, why not the screen as well? The Nintendo Game & Watch tried to do just that. Ever since, Nintendo has jumped back and forth with its hardware, producing dedicated gaming handhelds in-between launching more robust home consoles.


Not content to simply produce machines like the Game Boy and SNES in parallel, however, Nintendo came up with a number of work-arounds to try and bring the two things closer together, connecting them with conversion cartridges and special cables.

The Super Game Boy, released in 1994, made it possible to play Game Boy and Game Boy Color games on the TV. The SNES cartridge had a port where the smaller cartridges of Nintendo’s handheld could be mounted. A second CPU in the Super Game Boy itself was what made it possible to output the games through the SNES to the television they were all connected to.

Example of a Wide Boy setup, via Handheld Museum
Example of a Wide Boy setup, via Handheld Museum

The Transfer Pak for the N64 continued this trend, driven by the enthusiasm between games like Pokemon on the Game Boy and Pokemon Stadium on the N64. The final Wide Boy, part of a series of add-ons developed by Intelligent Systems that worked similar to the Super Game Boy, even made it possible look at Game Boy Advance games on a TV, acting like an early prototype for what Nintendo would later do with the Wii U and Gamepad.


But the larger-scale commercial solution to this problem didn’t come along until the GameCube. On the one-hand, the link cable connected handheld and home console in order to change how local multiplayer worked. Instead of looking at split screens or limiting every player to the same space, games like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles and The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures took advantage of the second screen provided by the GBA to give something more closely resembling a modern online gaming experience.

The Game Boy Player, another accessory for the GameCube, functioned more or less like a PlayStation TV, letting people play GBA games on their TVs by more or less mounting a GBA to the bottom of the console counterpart.

Since then, Nintendo backed-off its project to combine these two worlds, possibly in part because the technologies themselves had diverged dramatically. The Wii was focusing on motion controls while the DS and 3DS both featured second touch screens. Lately, however, the two have been brought more closely in-line. The 3DS received its own version of the latest Smash Bros. and can be used as a controller while playing the Wii U version. And of course the Wii U itself functions almost like two devices in one, with the Gamepad and Wii U box effectively offering a middle-ground between all of the accessories needed in earlier generations to achieve a similar result.


So after the reveal of the Switch, I can’t help but feel like Nintendo was headed here all along. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the new portable console, including its battery life and whether the docking device provides extra processing power. But based on all of the features showcased in the initial trailer, it seems like the clear successor to every previous effort Nintendo has made to truly fuse a handheld and home console together. Given the company’s history, the Switch might be the most obvious thing Nintendo has every made.

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.

Kotaku staff writer. You can reach him at ethan.gach@kotaku.com

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Is/will it be replacing 3DS that’s the only viable question right now.